Nigerian policemen are not the best paid citizens in the country. They are the ones that go to protect the best paid citizens in the Federal Government, the Senate, the House, the ministries and corporate organisations.
Now that the restive situation prevalent in Maiduguri has calmed down and an atmosphere of peace seems to exist, we think it is time to take a deep breath and review the circumstances under which the officers and men of the Police mobile unit broke tradition and went on protest over unpaid allowances a fortnight ago.
The protesting officers had told the world that about 10,000 of them were deployed in Borno State from different commands, but have not received their allowances in the past six months. The Police Headquarters on the Maiduguri-Kano Expressway was barricaded. A noisy procession of protesting men with arms is not the most reassuring sight in a city like Maiduguri. Some weapons were discharged and the population was affright.
The Police authorities had a different version of the event. The men had gone to enquire about their allowances and had been told that they would soon be paid, now that the Federal Budget had finally been approved and signed by the President. There was no protest. The officers had returned to their duty and loyalty.
The differences between the Policemen and the authorities’ tales, though significant, need not becloud the issue. Police allowances are recurrent expenditure that would not and should not be subject to the vagaries of Federal Government’s budget difficulties. It cannot be true, therefore, that the Policemen were not paid their allowances because of Federal Budget delay, as regrettable as that was. We think there has been a dereliction of duty somewhere in the Police hierarchy where the police men’s anger emanates. To withhold the allowances of policemen for six months is a very serious breach of the conditions of their employment. A disaffected policeman can be the devil’s workshop and, in effect, a dangerous policeman.
The Police are the principal organisation saddled with the security of life and property in the land. The Police Act is unequivocal and saddles the police with the duties of preventing, detecting and prosecuting crimes in the country. When they are not paid as and when due, the nation forfeits its moral authority to demand that they should not accept bribes and gratifications in the streets. If they have to find other means to fend for themselves, what moral authority empowers us to ask them to make sacrifices and to sometimes lay down their lives for our protection? In the last few weeks, it has been an open season on the police –seven officers killed in Abuja, two in Edo State, two in Kaduna State. Police officers and men sent to the North East – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States – are like soldiers sent to a war zone. The least any organisation can do is to pay them regularly. The insurance cover for the policemen is considered grossly inadequate. It needs to be remembered that in 2002, a similar incident occurred and policemen were forced to go on strike. It is a sad commentary on our institutional memory that the Police, as an organisation, appear to have forgotten that unhappy episode.
The Federal Government should dig deep into this issue. It is not enough for the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, to invite the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, for a meeting, perhaps to explain this incident. For policemen to go on a public display of discontent is the most grievous evidence of maladministration in the police. The men were not asking for a pay raise, just their regular allowances.
Nigerian policemen are not the best paid citizens in the country. They are the ones that go to protect the best paid citizens in the Federal Government, the Senate, the House, the ministries and corporate organisations. Someone must be held accountable for this incident so as not to reduce the Police to the caricature that is made of the organisation by its leaders.